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the latest details on the man who told police, "i am the joker." and high alert as security is tightened at theaters nationwide. new questions about copycat attacks. how safe is a trip to the movies this weekend? >> from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden, and bill weir in new york city, this is a special edition of "nightline." tragedy in colorado. the movie theater massacre. >> good evening. i'm bill weir. during a fight scene in the "dark knight rises," batman exhorts catwoman to put away her weapon. no killing, he says, no guns. sadly in the theater last night, life did not imitate that bit of art. the admit need premiere of that film became a killing ground. families are reeling. the young man is in custody and trying to figure out how to disarm the suspect's apartment. loaded with explosive booby traps.
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david wright begins our coveraged from denver suburb of aurora. >> reporter: good evening, bill. we're a few yards away from the multiplex where the massacre took place. the coroner met with loved one and outside that high school, as you can see, people were crying. the midnight showing of "the dark knight rises." to fans across the country, a summons asser resistible as the bat signal. at the century 16 theater here in aurora, the crowd included jennifer seeger, a young couple with their two kids and jessica ghawi, a 25-year-old aspiring sports caster who goes by the professional name jessica redfield. she tweeted her friends from inside the theater, "movie doesn't start for 20 minutes," she wrote excitedly in capital letters.
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the last tweet she would ever send at 11:37. about 12:05 right as the credits started to roll, a man in the front row of theater 9 got up, pretending to take a phone call. he went out the emergency exit, propping open the door behind him. 24-year-old james eagan holmes was apparently gearing up for an action scene of his own. police say he had with him a smith & wesson assault rifle, a remington pump action shotgun and two glock semiautomatic pistols. 12:39, this was the scene on the screen, christian bale acting opposite michael caine, as holmes came back through the emergency exit wearing a gas mask. witnesses say he threw a green canister into the crowd, filling the theater with smoke. >> your eyes are burning. makes you want to close them. you can't breathe. makes you want to cough. >> reporter: as though re-enacting a scene from a "dark knight" comic, witnesses say holmes fired into the air and then started shooting into the crowd.
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>> first clear sign it is when the guy sitting next to me got shot in the chest. >> the bullet cases falling on my forehead, singeing my forehead. i remember thinking, i'm not going to die in here, me and my kids, we're not going to die in here, i need to get them out. >> at that point he has a rifle in my face. >> there's a moment where my daughter tripped. i just pulled her up and i was just dragging her. i was thinking, we have to get out. i have to get out the door. if i just fall dead, just -- just get my kids out of here. it was so horrible. >> i got seven down in theater 9, seven down! >> reporter: police arrived on the scene less than two minutes after the rampage started. but it was chaos. >> what's happening? oh my god. >> i've got a child victim i need recued at the back door of theater 9,000. >> reporter: yelling "fire" in a crowded theater may be enough to cause a stampede.
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opening fire meant utter pandemonium. >> we go out, first thing we see is a 15, 14-year-old girl with a bullet wound in her leg. >> reporter: according to witnesses, holmes tried to blend in with the crowd. >> he stayed within the theater. people were just running. he was just walking. he was just walking. >> mr. holmes was apprehended outside in the back of theater. he was apprehended with three weapons. >> holmes immediately surrendered. police observed his hair was dyed orange. he told them, i am the joker. he also told them the movie theater, his apartment, and his car were booby trapped, just like the comic book villain would do. a full hour after the rampage began, the story broke over the airwaves. by then, 18 ambulances were there, triaging the victims and transporting the most serious cases to six local hospitals.
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12 people killed and 58 injured. 70 victims in all. so many, the police turned the back seats of their cruisers into makeshift ambulances. >> back is full of blood. don't know if that matters or not. >> full of what? >> blood. >> by 2:00 a.m., holmes' apartment block was evacuated. as the bomb squad started assessing the booby traps. they were extensive. >> we don't feel safe but we don't have the expertise to enter. >> reporter: today inside dozens of hospital rooms, survivors tried to make sense of this. >> it was fully calculated, definitely. it seemed very methodical, just the rate at which he was firing and how he wasn't really moving positions. he was just like unloading into the crowd. >> reporter: all day long, ten bodies remained inside the building while law enforcement secured the scene. their families and friends left waiting and wondering.
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>> tell me where he is, okay? find my son. i don't know where he is, okay? somebody find him and call us. tell him to call us. >> reporter: his son never called. sadly, alex sullivan is dead. late in the day, the authorities finally started to bring out the bodies. among the dead, jessica ghawi redfield. that aspiring sports caster who was so excited before the movie. tonight her mother spoke with diane sawyer. >> i texted her and asked if she was still up. she said, yes, we're at the movie, we're seeing "the dark knight." i said, okay, enjoy, we'll talk with you tomorrow. and she texted, mom, go get some sleep, get some rest, i'm so excited about your visit next week. i need my mama. and i wrote back and said, i need my baby girl. >> reporter: astonishingly, this was not jessica's first time in harm's way. last month, she happened to be
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in a toronto food court when a gunman went on a deadly rampage there. her friend peter burns said that experience led her to make the most of every day. in her blog she wrote, i was reminded we don't know when or where our time on earth will end. when or where we will breathe our last breath. this morning, when peter opened up his facebook page, there was a message from jessica. >> it said, hey. >> reporter: a message she wrote just before the movie. >> it goes, hey, are you guys back in town? you know, it was her checking in. >> by the time you got that message, she was already dead. >> yeah. >> reporter: i'm david wright for "nightline" in aurora, colorado. >> our thanks to david. coming up next, the latest on the unfolding investigation into the alleged shooter, his arsenal, and the explosive surprise he left for police. as luxury s.u.v.s,
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more than a speeding ticket. he was a ph.d. candidate with a mother who has experience as a mental health professional. so much of the aurora shooting suspect's profile doesn't seem to fit the destruction he unleashed in that theater. abc's brian ross has the latest on james holmes. >> reporter: when the mother of james holmes was reached in her san diego home today and first told what had happened overnight, she expressed little surprise. "you have the right person," she told abc news. "i need to call the police." authorities said today the planning for the theater attack began at least two months ago when holmes purchased the first two guns of his arsenal at denver-area stores, passing the required background checks. >> in the last 60 days he purchased four guns at local
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metro gun shops. and through the internet he purchased over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. >> reporter: it was over the last few months that holmes, who was phi beta kappa in college, saw his academic and career dreams collapse as he withdrew from a ph.d. program in neuroscience at university of colorado's denver campus. >> i think the motive is his life has continued to collapse for i bet a number of months or maybe even a few years. and as his issues with perhaps delusion, paranoia got greater, he couldn't deal with what was going on around him. >> reporter: holmes grew up in a prosperous san diego community called rancho penasquitos. this is holmes six years ago, called jimmy, a high school senior, a member of the junior varsity soccer team at westview high school. >> that's where it made me think about the times where he was picked on in class. he was just that person always smirking.
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>> reporter: one former classmate remembered holmes as the class bully. others in his neighborhood said he was a classic loner. >> he was just quiet. >> reporter: unable to find a job, holmes moved to colorado last fall and appeared to be nothing more than a quiet and easy-going graduate student. but he was a different jim holmes who showed up at this san diego pawnshop where the owner said he sought tips on firing the guns he planned to use. >> we carry all of those firearms in stock, very specifically remember james holmes' face. >> reporter: last night, neighbors at his apartment building said they heard loud techno music coming from his apartment with recorded sounds of gunshots added in. holmes was already at the theater at the time. >> odd is what really brought up the red flags for us, the apartment complex is very quiet. there's no noise, nothing. then all of a sudden yesterday night around midnight this morning, music starts up out of nowhere. that was kind of odd because no one throws parties in that
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apartment. >> reporter: then holmes apparently attempted to make himself into the joker character of the batman series. according to a briefing given to the new york city police commissioner raymond kelly. >> he had his hair painted red. he said he was the joker. >> he's a guy that has so left reality that he now is in this make-believe world that he's part of the batman world. and that he's going to go in and play this character and through that character he's going to kill people. >> reporter: police say holmes told them he was extremely calm throughout the evening because he had taken the powerful painkiller vicodin about two hours before the attack. his final step, police say, was to booby trap his apartment, which they say was so full of chemicals and incendiary devices that it may be days before the bomb squad can figure out how to defuse them.
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>> i saw jars full of ammunition, jars full of liquid, things that look like mortar rounds. we have a lot of challenges to get in there safely. >> reporter: victims and their families are left wondering why. experts say in such cases parents often know, without specifics, that something is wrong. >> in so many of these shootings that have happened before, they are carried out by people at the point of desperation, felt they may have no other options left. >> reporter: today his father robert, a software engineer, left the family home in san diego under police protection to fly to colorado to see his son. police say they are certain holmes acted alone. their main concern, there could be copycats tonight. >> so what sort of steps are they taking? >> in aurora, the police chief says he's been contacted by chiefs all across the country. he's told them what he's doing, putting extra duty officers at those theaters showing "batman" in the foreseeable future. >> we also understand, amc, they
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don't want to discourage costumes, fans coming and being searched, i understand. >> yes. across the country, there are concerns there could be something else from the copycats, someone trying to capitalize on the same publicity mr. holmes has received. >> he heard from one in times square, he went to see it and looked for the excites. changing the way people are thinking about movies tonight. stay with us, must have more as our special coverage continues. well that was uncalled for. gallagher. incoming!!! it's wasteful. you know jimmy. folks who save hundreds of dollars switching to geico sure are happy. how happy, ronny? happier than gallagher at a farmers' market. get happy. get geico. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more. ♪ [ acou[ barks ]ar: slow ] ♪ [ upbeat ] [ barks ] beneful playful life is made with energy-packed wholesome grains...
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one of the most depressing aspects of this rampage is just how familiar it is to the american experience.
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we've seen it so many times. the body counts, the candlelight vigils, the search for motive, the gun control debate. the numbers may be different this time. 12 dead, four guns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition he purchased online. in an effort to put this heartbreak into a national context, here are some other numbers to consider. in america, over a dozen guns are legally sold every minute of every day. there are almost 300 million privately owned firearms in this country, almost enough to arm every man, woman, and child. but while there is a gun in four out of every ten american homes tonight, a small percentage of owners have most of the weapons. with the average check collection swelling in recent years to around seven guns per owner. with this massive supply, prices have dropped. the cost of james holmes'
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massive arsenal was around $3,000. with bullets going for 50 cents apiece, he could fill the his rifle for around the cost of a tank of gas. since the early '90s when many states relaxed their weapons laws, violent crime has dropped 70%. despite the rampages on campuses and military bases, the hail of gang bullets in chicago that has killed over 200 so far this year, the national murder rate is at a 47-year low. but on the other side of the argument, the brady center points out that americans still kill each other with guns at a level that is staggering compared to the rest of humanity. a study in "the journal of trauma and acute care surgery" found our gun murder rate is 22% higher than the next 22 richest nations combined. regardless, polls show public attitudes don't change much, even after a mass slaughter like this one. 49% say it's more important to
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protect gun rights. while 45% favor tighter gun control. but no one of any political stripe can deny the human cost of our collective trigger fingers. in the 44 years since bobby kennedy and martin luther king were shot to death, bullets have ended e lives of over 1 million people. including 12 in aurora, colorado, who came together at midnight just looking to cheer for a superhero. of course, we don't mourn statistics, we mourn sons and brothers and moms and friends. on behalf of all of us here on abc, sincere condolences to all those who love, all those who are lost. thank you for watching. "good morning america" will have much more in the morning. you can check out the latest on have a safe weekend.
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>> announcer: tonight on "jimmy kimmel live." >> nadya suleman, the octomom, made her strip club debut. it had much more of an impact on the state of florida than anyone had anticipated. >> ryan cranston. >> there are only 15 episodes of "breaking bad" left. there are still plenty of people left to kill. larry king. >> i saw her your kids were running around and you looked like you wanted to
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